Finally. A 10-year-old legal battle over the federal ruling that protects nearly 50 million acres of wild national forestland around the country appears to be over.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld the legality of the U.S. Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, also known as the Roadless Rule.
The rule, designed to keep some 30 percent of the national forestlands in the country free of road construction, logging, mining and other development, has been fiercely contested for years.
Some 90 percent of the public comments during an exhaustive, two-year public review period leading up to the rule’s approval in 2001 were favorable. Conservation groups have hailed the rule as one of the most important conservation policies ever created for forest, fish and wildlife protections.
It was fought tooth and nail by the Bush administration and timber interests. But it’s time to call an end to the legal battle now that the appellate court has rejected essentially every legal argument against the rule, including one that the rule was used to circumvent the 1964 Wilderness Act, which says only Congress can designate wilderness areas.
The Roadless Rule assures that 2 million pristine acres of forestland in this state and another 2 million acres in Oregon will be spared development.
But the rule is about more than simply keeping wild lands untamed. For instance.
• Roadless areas are a prime source of clean drinking water for some 60 million Americans.
• The nation’s outdoor recreation industry, which generates some $730 billion in annual revenues, relies heavily upon roadless areas in federal forests.
• The Forest Service road network of 389,000 miles – enough to encircle the earth 15 times – faces a maintenance backlog of as much as $10 billion. The Roadless Rule will save taxpayers money by keeping that backlog from growing.
• Undisturbed federal forests provide habitat for hundreds of threatened, endangered and declining species, including several fish species in Washington state.
In Idaho, the fight continues over the future of 9 million acres of roadless area that the state was able to secure an exemption to allow some logging and mining.
Nevertheless, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has delivered a clear victory for the protection of America’s federal forests.